CHARLESTON, SC, USA - In a clash between former Family Circle Cup champions - as well as former World No.1s, Venus Williams won a tight first set then rolled over Jelena Jankovic in a literally electric second round match.
Going into the match Jankovic may have been the favorite, not only leading their head-to-head, 6-5, but having won their last four clay court meetings (including a 60 61 rout in their last meeting on the clay courts of Rome two years ago).
Jankovic had the stronger start, breaking in the opening game and, after losing serve in the next game, breaking again for a 2-1 lead. But the two players then had to deal with a lengthy rain delay, with lightning in the area as well.
Once they resumed there were a few more momentum swings and Jankovic found herself serving for the first set at 5-4, but that's when the last momentum swing took effect - Williams broke, held then broke again to take the first set, hitting two forehand winners to get to set point, when Jankovic double faulted.
Williams extended that streak to nine games in a row by winning the second set at love, capping the 75 60 win with one last backhand down-the-line winner.
"I hadn't played her in a long time, so in the first set I was just finding my rhythm and getting used to any new patterns she might have," Williams said. "In the second set everything started landing for me. I was moving forward and playing my aggressive game. Honestly, I don't know how it went that nicely for me. Everything just landed, and she hit a few errors, and that helped me a lot."
And that backhand winner on match point? "I thought it was going out," she said. "It felt like it wasn't going to land, but the luck was on my side. It was landing. The whole set it just started landing. I wish I could play like that every set. If I knew how, I totally would. But I'm glad it at least happened today."
Though tenacity is often rewarded more than aggression on clay, Williams has always done well on the dirt - she has nine WTA clay court titles to her name, the second most among active players, after Anabel Medina Garrigues' 10.
"I like to go for it in general, but on clay I do try to exercise some patience," Williams said. "Personally I love clay and I've won a lot of big titles on clay. I was close to winning the biggest title and it didn't work out. Someone beat me."
Williams is now 6-1 since coming back to the WTA, going 4-1 in Miami and 2-0 so far here. Which win is her most treasured? "All of them," she said. "I never really know how it's going to turn out. My whole mentality is different now. Before I knew I could win matches, and now I don't know what's going to happen when I walk on the court. So I always feel like I'm stepping into the unknown."
Jankovic has now lost her first match in straight sets at her last three events.
"My level of play wasn't at a high level today," Jankovic said. "Against Venus you have to serve well. I have to work on that shot. I have to work on a lot of things, but it's just the beginning of the clay season, so hopefully it'll get better.
"I'm in negotiations to find a coach, to get a coach, and I really want to because it's difficult like this, not having anyone, especially when I have to work on some technical things and get the shots right on track. It's little things here and there that make a big difference, and it's important to have someone to help you.
"I'm at the stage of my career where I'm getting older and maybe need more help than before, where I could do it alone at times, or with a hitting partner.
"The next few years I'm going to play, I want to try to give my best, and I want to improve. I still want to work hard and try to get better as a player."
Williams will play fellow WTA veteran Anastasia Rodionova in the third round on Thursday. Williams won the pair's only previous meeting comfortably.